CHAPTER TEN VARIETY WITHIN FAMILIARITY
If you already use a traditional service, this chapter will suggest ways you can do it more effectively. This chapterwill allow you to understand and make maximum use of the many resources available for variation in the service, and hopefully will prompt you to write some of your own materials. This chapter assumes that the way to guard against people’s rejection of change is to make only small changes each week, always explain them, and to keep the basic structure of the service intact.
BALANCING VARIETY AND REPETITION
What can be done about the problem of thoughtless repetition of the familiar texts of the ordinary? First, we need to regularly take time to re-explain the meaning and value of the familiar texts. Second, we need to vary the way they are performed, which both calls attention to them and causes people to see them in a new light. One of the easiest ways to do this is to read a text that is usually sung, and vice versa. It is amazing how people will suddenly see fresh meaning in the Gloria in Excelsis when they read it, after years of singing it. On the other hand, it is heart-warming to see people’s appreciation for singing a hymn version of the Lord’s Prayer, such as Luther’sthoughtful hymn. Another way is to give the choir the challenge of learning beautiful choral versions of the parts of the ordinary, and singing them as a change of pace.
Another problem comes with the usage of a lectionary. Since the readings and Psalms are already chosen, it is a temptation torun through them without thinking, just because they are there. Those leaders that take time to call people’s attention to themain points or a scripture text, explain why it Is being read, and point out its relationship to the theme, will find that the listeners get much more out of it. In making this suggestion, the author knows that there is another school of thoughtwhich feels that the power of scripture is somehow diminished if one takes time to explain it. The author’s opinion on this subject is that if this were true, then the sermon itself would not be necessary. From years of pew-sitting, this author has concluded that awakening the listener to what to watch for in a given reading, and explaining difficult words and references, enhances both his love for the Word and that Word’s impact on his life.
HYMNS AND ANTHEMS
Since hymns and anthems are not part of the traditional structure of ordinary and propers, we can use a great deal of freedom in placing them. Being liturgical does not require that we place them in the same place every week. On the contrary, we will enhance the basic structure if we place them thoughtfully in order to reinforce it. Besides using hymns and anthems to actually perform parts of the ordinary and propers, they can be used for these three other purposes: 1) to repeat the thought of a section. For example, After a scripture is read, a song using the same words can be sung. 2) To anticipate a section. For example, before a scripture is read, a hymn can be sung on the same topic which that scripture will address. 3) To provide a meditation on a portion. For example, after the sermon, a hymn can be used which goes over many of the same concepts.
Now, looking at the service from beginning to end, the first problem to consider is how to relate the public order of confession to the experienced beginning of the worship celebration. The problem is that when a major, joyful opening hymn is used prior to confession, the opening Psalm’s function of starting the service is made redundant and meaningless. Moreover, it is also difficult to present the Kyrie as an act of acclamation, when it follows so close upon the confession time, and when the opening Psalm does not have a joyful feeling. This book’s purpose is not to debate whether or not to include the order of confession. On the one hand, theologian Peter Brunner concludes, in his book Worship in the Name of Jesus, that there is no biblical reason to repeat a confession/absolution ceremony week after week.1 On the other hand, there are many pastors and laymen who treasure this ceremony as one of the high points oftheir Sunday experience. If it is used, the first thing that we can acknowledge is that since it is a later addition to the service, we are not being “anti-liturgical” if we exercise freedom in its placement. In fact, by varying it’s placement, we call attention to it and help it to be experienced in new ways. It can be placed just before communion, for example. If it is placed at the beginning, it shows more sensitivity to the intent of the liturgy to present it as something before the service rather than as if it were the beginning of the service. This can be done by having the confession part before any hymn, or after a meditative, thoughtful hymn that will not feel like the festive beginning of the service.
If the confession is perceived as outside the service proper, then attention can be given to really making the openingPsalm time feel like the beginning of the service. The problem here is that having choir or even congregation chant a traditional Introit will probably not have the festive feel or weight necessary to make a strong beginning. Almost the only way we can create the feel we need is to have a congregational hymn. If we realize that the reason a Psalm was selected in the first place was to fulfill the function of “starting”, then we can feel free to use a hymn to fulfill the same function, without feeling that we are rejecting tradition. The liturgy in Lutheran Book of Worship allows for this option.
Alternatively, according to the idea that a hymn could be used to reinforce a part of the service, one could have a strong opening hymn, and then continue the “opening of service” function with a Psalm or traditional introit. This bring us to a major question: how to foster and facilitate the singing of Psalms. Because this question is not easy to solve, Psalms are commonly read in the service rather than sung. If we recognize that Psalms used in public worship are meant to be sung, we may be motivated to try some of the following ways:
The easiest way is to find a hymn which is based on a Psalm. Several German chorales are obviously versifications of Psalms, such as Luther’s hymn “From Depths of Woe” (Psalm 130). In addition, we can make use of the hymn versions of Psalms which were created for Reformed worship at the time when they permitted Psalm singing only. Some of these hymns are in Lutheran hymnals, such as All People that on Earth do Dwell (Psalm 100; note that the four Psalm verses are followed by the Gloria Patri, according to ancient practice), and you can find hymn versions of every Psalm in a Psalter, readily available in a Reformed Church in America congreation. Finally, the more recent appearance of songs based on scripture verses provides a wide selection, for many of these songs are actually Psalms.
A new way to sing Psalms was created by Joseph Gelineau in the 1950’s. He re-translated the Psalms to retain the rhythmic feel of the Hebrew, and then created simple melodies which change notes to coincide with the beat of the music. The hope is that using a beat will make these melodies easier to Introduce than
the beatless music of chanting.
In order to sing a traditional Introit, the usual solution has been to have the choir sing either a harmonized version or a chant. Paul Bunjes has put much effort into facilitating the chanting of Psalms by congregations. A compendium of this life effort can be seen in the Psalm melodies written in Lutheran Worship. There are eight chant melodies, and one of the eight is provided for each Psalm. One rule of thumb for chanting that many people overlook is to chant in the same speed and rhythm as speaking.
Another way to chant Psalms is to use Anglican chant in four-part harmony. This option would almost certainly be limitedto choirs.
After the opening, the next part of the traditional service is the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy”. The first problem is to overcome the association of this phrase with a feeling of penitence or confession, and bring out the original idea of an acclamation of praise. To this author, that really can’t be solved without actually retranslating to a phrase such as “Lord, you are high and worthy of my complete dependence”. Of course, the choir could sing it sometimes in the original Greek, using any of the powerful musical settings which can be found in masses written for choirs. Many of these settings do bring out the feeling of acclamation.
Another way to bring out the meaning is to use hymns which incorporate these words. A number of these, called “leisen” hymns, can be found in Lutheran hymnals. Sometimes they are not so obvious, because the phrase “Lord have mercy” has been changed to “Alleluia”. Still another solution would be to substitute a hymn of acclamation.
If we want to get back to the idea of using the Kyrie as a litany, we have the choice of either using the same litany every week, as in Lutheran Worship, or creating new petitions to fit in with the day’s theme. But using the litany makes it even harder to fit the Kyrie in with the note of praise at the beginning of the service. This author thinks it would be meaningful at times to go back to an even earlier precedent, and place the litany back in the second part of the service, as a way to do the general prayer.
The next item, the Gloria in Excelsis, should be experienced as the major hymn of praise of the service. The idea ofcombining the angel’s song with an overwhelming outpouring of praise to the triune God is compelling. This author grew up with the Anglican chant version published in The Lutheran Hymnal, and is glad that there are newly composed versions in Luheran Worship and Lutheran Book of Worship that are much more singable.
There is also the tradition of substituting a German chorale, and there are two chorales which could be used: All Glory be to God on High and All Glory be to God alone. Again, the choir could occasionally use any of the exciting musical settings which have been composed for the mass. The fact that the new hymnals have provided for the alternate new hymn, “Worthy is the Lamb”, suggests a precedent that congregations could go even further at this spot and at times use one or more other hymns to fulfill the function of this part of the service.
After the time of praise, the propers begin with the sequence of collect, readings, and music between readings. The collect gives the opportunity to prepare the heart for hearing God’s Word, and bring out the theme for the day. Sincethe cycle of readings has been redone, and Psalms to fit with these readings have been carefully selected, it seems to this author that the next step is to pay more attention to the collect, and make sure it is fulfilling its function. The worship leader should take time to judge whether the printed collect is sufficient for bringing out the theme for the day; to make sure the request in the prayer is weighty and compatible with what we actually confess, and not just asking for things (such as eternal life) which we confess that we aleady have.
And while it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the Latin collect, with its brevity and balance, that does not mean it actually is able to bring the listener into prayer. The author feels it is more meaningful to begin with the typical English way ofbeginning a prayer than to read off a set piece that is experienced more as a poetry recitation than as a heart-felt engagement with God. This author would encourage pastors or worship committee members to compose their own “theme prayers”, in language suitable to their congregation, after meditating on the readings. The need to write new prayers is one of the obvious ways to give devoted laymen who have been gifted with literary skills a chance to contribute their talents to the congregation’s worship.
The scripture readings are indisputedly the heart of the first half of the service, and consequently should receive great attention. Mark Searle, in The Liturgy Made Simple, tells worship planners to “start with the readings,”, and , in thinking about their significance, to “let the images surface”. The work of the planning committee is to:
“set the congregation up”, as it were, to be struck with those images and recognize what the Lord is saying. ..So the question arises, once the main images have been discovered: how can we present these readings in a way that people who get to hear them only once in a large congregation, without time for preparation or reflection, can still get the point of each reading?2
He goes on to suggests that the point can be already brought out in opening remarks, in explanations just before the reading, or even in visual images.
Presenting God’s Word is another way to involve lay people in the church service, and has the advantage of providing a change of voice, which restores attention, and an gives an opportunity to those gifted with vocal presentation skills. While there are those who believe that lay readers subvert the distinctive prerogative of the office of public ministry, the Manual to Lutheran Book of Worship expresses the contrary view:
“Laypeople——women as well as men——ought to be encouraged to help the pastor to lead the church service, according to their abilities. They are not just taking the place of pastors. They have their own role to fulfill. For example, if a congregation has five pastors, that is not an excuse to prevent laypeople from helping to lead. In that case, all five pastors plus several laypeople ought to help lead theservice.” 3
If your church does allow lay readers, you need to be alert to see whether some of the readings can be done by several people takingdifferent parts, or as a choral reading. Giving the reader an opportunity to meditate and pray on the reading beforehand, and to write an introduction to it, both alleviates the pastor’s burden, nurtures the member’s growth, and makes it more likely that simple things, which the well-trained clergyman might have taken for granted, will be noted and presented to the listener.
MUSIC BETWEEN READINGS: GRADUAL, ETC.
The idea of having music in between the readings, which is an obvious feature of the western worship tradition, serves both to provide a change of pace, recognizing that the listener’s attention span is limited, and an opportunity to highlight and reinforce the meaning of the readings. Tradition provides us with a tremendous range of precedents for being creative in this area. If three readings are used, then two opportunities for music are available, and during the early centuries these slots were filled by the Psalm excerpt called the Gradual, and by scripture texts sung along with the word Alleluia. During the many centuries when only two readings were used, these two texts were combined. Many chant and harmony settings of these texts are available, but most congregations will find that they could best be sung by the choir. The newest Lutheran hymnals allow the option of returning to the original idea of using an entire Psalm. The challenge here is to find ways to sing it rather than say it, so it truly fulfils its psychological function as a contrast to the scripture reading. Any of the ways mentioned above concerning the Introit could be used to perform this Psalm.
During the eighteenth century, many German Lutheran churches set the precedent of using a hymn in place of the gradual. As mentioned in chapter seven, these gradual hymns have been collected and expanded in a listing called the Hymn of the Week, available from Concordia. While that publication suggests -singing them just before the sermon, they could just as well be used in their original place, between epistle and gospel lessons. Since the precedent for substituting a hymn has been set, there is also no reason that any suitable hymn couldn’t be use to fill the function here. Another path is to follow up on the tradition of singing Alleluia at this spot. Besides the Alleluia verses provided in the published liturgies, there is no end to the hymns and choral music that includes the word Alleluia. If the choir is going to sing an anthem anyway, and if it includes the notion of praising, why not put it here to replace the Alleluia, rather than reduplicating this function by putting it somewhere else? Finally, J. S. Bach’s cantatas were performed at this spot, before the gospel. That makes this spot a good one for larger works done by the choir, in order to set the stage for the gospel lesson.
About selecting hymns. Hymns from certain eras in history been contrasted unfavorably with hymns that were brought forth at other times. For example, German chorales from the time of the Reformation are praised by some as “objective” and”didactic”, which supposedly means they are better than hymns which are “subjective” and “simple in content”. These samechorales are stigmatized by others as “hard to understand” and “hard to sing”, which supposedly means they are worse thanhymns which require no explanation and needn’t be rehearsed. Those who dismiss the unfamiliar by the expedient ofassigning the labels “good” and “bad” to certain categories of hymns would be hard-pressed to explain why they are ableto accept all of the Psalms, for various Psalms can be placed in each of the categories mentioned above. On thecontrary, selecting hymns in order to undergird the structure of the service leads to a different way of evaluatinghymns: whether or not they are appropriate for the purpose at hand. A didactic hymn would fit well in the part of theservice where God’s Word is being proclaimed, but other parts of the service call for other kinds of hymns. Thescripture song “Seek Ye First” (Matthew 6:33) would not fit in the part of the service where praising is being done,but could follow a scripture reading. Using this approach, certain hymns, both objective and subjective, will berecognized as not appropriate for the church service at all, but rather more fitting for other gatherings; thatdoesn’t mean they are “bad” hymns.
1. Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus (St.-Louis: Concordia, 1968) p.
2. Mark Searle, Liturgy Made Simple (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1981) p.
3. Manual on the Liturgy, p. 11.